The pleasant but punchless ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ continued the march of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ movie mediocrity

May 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 14, 2015

Roughly midway into the 1998 movie Star Trek: Insurrection, Jean-Luc Picard is faced with a moral dilemma. The captain of the good ship Enterprise has discovered that Starfleet Admiral Matthew Dougherty is conspiring with the Son’a, a sinister alien race, to secretly relocate the Ba’ku, the 600 peaceful agrarian residents of an isolated and idyllic world. Dougherty and the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, want to exploit a unique natural resource — the radiation emitted by the planet’s rings, which reverses the decrepitude of aging. Unfortunately for the Ba’ku, the only way to collect this radiation in industrial quantities involves a process that will render the world’s surface uninhabitable.

Picard has been ordered to depart the area and allow the Son’a to continue the Ba’ku relocation, which Dougherty claims has authorization from top United Federation of Planets officials. But the captain considers the forced relocation to be morally abhorrent — a violation of core principles that he, the Federation and Starfleet have spent years struggling to uphold. In a somber moment, he stands alone in his quarters and begins pulling his rank insignia from his collar…

In other hands, this might have been a dramatic scene. Here, however, it seems preordained — just another script point. Insurrection was written by 1990s Trek television series producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller and directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays William Riker, the first officer of the Enterprise. And, rather like Generations, which was the first movie featuring Picard, Riker and the rest of the crew of the 24th-century Enterprise, I think that Insurrection would have worked better had it been released and displayed on small screens rather than silver ones.

Like the entire Next Generation cinematic oeuvre (GenerationsFirst Contact and Nemesis), Insurrection is…fine. There are some action scenes, both in space and on the nameless Ba’ku planet, that provide a few mild thrills. Picard (Patrick Stewart, given nothing to do here that’s nearly as interesting as his Captain Ahab scene in First Contact) pursues a chaste but moderately sweet love affair with a Ba’ku leader named Anij (Donna Murphy).

The villains of the piece, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) and Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe), are not especially nasty or distinctive. The rekindled romance between Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) is kind of cute, as is the return to puberty of the Klingon officer Worf (Michael Dorn). The friendship that the android Data (Brent Spiner) strikes up with a 12-year-old boy named Artim (Michael Welch) is cloying, but not obnoxiously so; it even achieves a fleeting poignancy.

And that’s sort of the where most any assessment of Insurrection begins and ends: The movie is OK…mediocre…lackluster…pedestrian — just sort of…meh.

To his credit, Frakes does a competent job of staging the action and the character beats. The movie threatens to become interesting at the halfway point as Picard and his loyal officers attempt to lead the imperiled Ba’ku villagers on a hike to safety in the mountains while Son’a aircraft and drones attack them from above. Here one briefly empathizes with the Ba’ku, who are endangered by a belligerent, technologically superior opponent for the sole reason that they live in a place with exploitable natural resources.

But here again — as with the moral dilemma that Picard has resolved by removing his captain’s insignia a few minutes previously — the film pulls its punches. Although the movie makes it clear that the Son’a are repellent, they’re not actually killing the Ba’ku; they’re merely transporting them into a holding tank. Just as Picard’s decision never appeared to be that difficult, the villains here never seem very threatening.

Ru’afo and company raise the stakes in the film’s final act, but by then everything seems just a little too silly to take seriously. This is partly due to some shoddy computer-generated imagery, most of which — Artim’s small animal pal, the scenes where time starts moving slowly, the deployment of the Son’a radiation collector and about every second or third shot of the space battle between the Enterprise and the Son’a warships — is entirely unconvincing. No less ridiculous is Riker’s controlling Enterprise during the climactic battle with a joystick. This gimmick is practically guaranteed to make fanboys weep and non-fanboys snicker.

Don’t go out of your way to avoid Star Trek: Insurrection, but don’t go out of your way to see it. It’s competent, inoffensive entertainment — a mildly pleasant way to spend an hour and 43 minutes, but hardly the kind of movie that’s likely to affect your life one way or the other.

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